Thursday, February 15, 2007

Gun free zones and mass shootings.

One thing about the tragedy in Salt Lake City was bothering me. Something didn’t make sense.

We know the basic facts. One individual decided to kill lots of people. He went to a crowded, confined space to do so -- the Trolley Square shopping mall. Within seconds he killed five people. An off duty cop from another city was having dinner with his wife. He hears the gun shots and confronts the killer. The off duty officer is armed. This stops the rampage, and from that point on the only additional death was that of the killer.

What bothered me was why this off duty cop was the only individual to respond. There were a large group of people in a card shop, where the most deaths took place. Why were none of them armed? In fact why were all the other shoppers apparently unarmed? Or was everyone too frightened to confront the killer?

The fright theory doesn’t work well. If you are standing in a crowd and someone is randomly shooting into this crowd even if terrified you shoot back.

Could the gun owners have all fled the scene seeking safety? All the indications are that people were trapped. People in shops couldn’t get out except by running past the gunman. So they hid, they sought cover, they couldn’t flee for the most part.

It is also possible that by some bizarre coincidence people in that general vicinity were all unarmed. Even in the West, where carrying a firearm is legal, it is possible that one could gather a group of a few hundred or thousand people in one spot and have none of them armed. Possible just not likely. We even know that lots of supporters of gun control routinely arm themselves!

So what explained the derth of armed citizens at that moment? Why was there only one person in the entire mall, other than the killer, who was armed?

And the answer came by reading a secondary article in the Salt Lake City Tribune. I always prefer going to a local newspaper as their coverage is usually more detailed. In this article they discuss the debate on gun control -- though in Utah there is not much of a debate. They quote one opponent of victim disarmament as asking: “How many people left their firearms home Monday night because they were afraid of violating a rule?”

Rule? What rule? The paper clarified, “referring to the signs at Trolley Square prohibiting firearms.”


Now mind you I acknowledge a property owner’s right to restrict access to his property contingent upon certain limits on behaviour. A shop owner may prevent smoking in his shop. He may forbid weapons in his shop. When I owned a business I stopped smoking in the shop but never restricted people from carrying a firearm.

This choice ought to belong to the owner of the mall. And apparently they restricted the carrying of firearms. I don’t know if that meant the off-duty officer was in violation of the rule but off hand it sounds as if he was. Good thing too! And I suspect the mall won’t be having a go at him for being armed.

From the description of events it is unlikely anything could have been done fast enough to save the lives of the people outside the mall who were killed first. But I can see that, had shoppers been allowed to carry guns, this would have ended sooner than it did. Certainly the people trapped in the card store, who were picked off and shot, would have fired back and there is a good chance the horror would have ended then.

Had that have happened a couple of lives would have been saved. Tthe incident would have ended before the one armed shopper had time to arrive.

The mall was basically a private “gun free” zone. Of course the problem is that individuals who want to kill people usually don’t worry about violating rules like that. And this raises a question. Was this mall targeted by this young man because it had signs up saying guns were restricted?

If you want to kill a large number of people you really don’t want them shooting back at you. Even if you are intent on dying their action can prevent you from accomplishing your goal. If mass killing is your goal you want your victims to be unarmed. And if you want unarmed victims then you are attracted to a “gun free zone” of one kind or another.

So to accomplish your goal you are looking for several things. One is to find a crowded location. You can’t kill lots of people if there aren’t lots of people. You need a confined space. Otherwise your targets can escape too easily. And you want people who are unarmed.

Not a lot of places fit that bill. Certainly shopping malls, if they restrict firearms, fit that bill. Schools would qualify as well.

It seems that most the “mass shootings” we have witnessed in the United States take place within gun free zones. I know people say guns are the problem. But oddly these mass shootings don’t occur at gun shows. And there is a reason for that. Consider the man in New Zealand who decided to rob a gun store with a machete. That didn’t work out very well for him.

And whatever perverse motives these sick killers have it doesn’t work out very well for their plans if they attack people who are armed. They prefer unarmed victims and a sign proclaiming a specific location as one where guns are not allowed is like a magnet to such lunatics.

The signs forbidding firearms may have disarmed the shoppers for the most part. But it had no impact on the killer nor would it. Breaking a rule like that is the least of his concerns. But it did mean that the shoppers were a prime target and that may explain why the Trolley Square Mall was targeted in the first place.

Note: For information on the Virginia Tech shootings go here.

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